Lined up along the walkway leading into the large, grassy area of Gwazi Field, Festival kiosks include:
Gourmet Lodge: Deconstructed Duck Confit with Crispy Fried Wontons; Beef Brisket with Cheddar and Smoked Gouda Potato Au Gratin; and Venison Chili with Roasted Corn, Black Beans and Lime Sour Cream.
Southern Station: Pan-Seared Shrimp with Roasted Red Pepper Grits, Pan‐fried Cod with Parsnip Puree; and Beef Short Rib with Brioche Toast.
Savory Tavern: Coconut Shrimp Cigars and Mandarin Orange Salad; Braised Lamb with Roasted Corn and Merlot Jus Lie; and Passion Fruit Flan.
Field House Eatery: Pan‐Seared Scallops with Watermelon Salsa; Roasted Pork Belly with Tomato Onion Jam; Strawberry-Ginger Shrimp Salad; and Mango Éclairs with White Chocolate Drizzle.
Coast to Coast Cookery: Hangar Steak and Potato Leek Hash; Bacon-Wrapped Prawns in Kumquat Glaze with Jicama Cilantro Slaw; Micro Greens Salad with Goat Cheese and Golden Beets; and Flourless Chocolate Torte.
Comfort Kitchen: Bacon Mac & Cheese; Serrano Ham with Baby Greens; Habanero Shrimp Salad with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette.
Chef’s Plantation: Pan‐Seared Salmon Cakes with Caper-Lemon Aioli and Wasabi Microgreens; Goat Cheese Fingerling Potato Tart with Pistachio Oil; and Grilled Cheese Cake Sandwich with Raspberry Coulis.
Light Fare Canteen: Scallop Ceviche; Heirloom Tomato & Goat Cheese Salad; and a Cheese Plate with Strawberries and Grapes.
Blazin’ Bistro: Fire‐Braised Pork Chop and Plantain Chips; Balsamic Micro Greens Salad; Jerk Chicken Slider with Pineapple Salsa; and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Bacon Toffee.
During our media preview, we sampled the Pan-Seared Scallops (beautifully tender, with a nice seared crunch); Habanero Shrimp Salad (delicious! Tangy vinaigrette with a sweet ‘punch’ from the strawberry garnish); Pork Belly (succulent, fatty, and full of flavour); Bacon Mac & Cheese (bacon and cheesy pasta; what more needs to be said?); Jerk Chicken Slider (more like a full-sized sandwich, the lightly spiced chicken is perfectly complimented by the pineapple salsa); and the Mango Éclairs (whatever else you try, make sure this is one of your selections. Oh, so creamy and yummy!).
We spoke with Chef Ron DeBonis, who helped create the dishes we had enjoyed, and asked him how the menu came together. “We got into a room with blank boards and threw out ideas about proteins, garnishes, and so on. We took that information and disseminated it into menu items, paired them down, and did focused testing. 75-100 items made it through, some items were then scratched, some were winners, and we ended up with 29 items. Then we added wine.”
Chef DeBonis admitted Food and Wine was a fun event to create a menu for, and that it took time to come up with the perfect blend of cuisine and beverages, having started the project just after Bands, Brew, and BBQ. He is proud of what the team has produced, and rightly so. “We really are doing more than ‘theme park food’. We elevate the food so that it tells the story better. And we do tastings better than anyone. You can try everything from venison to pork belly, and everything is fresh and fun.”
But the fun doesn’t end at the Food and Wine kiosks. The whole park gets into the act, with special topiaries in each ‘land’, including Sesame Street favourites Elmo, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in the festival center at Gwazi Plaza; Mugambi the Lion; Naga’ Zira, the Green Boa Constrictor; and SeaWorld-inspired Commerson’s Dolphin and Sea Turtles. PhotoKey photographers are on hand at the topiaries, Florida Octopus (near Garden Gate Café), the Spirit of Spring (near Xcursions), and the Topiarazzi (outside Zagora Café).
Wine bars are located at gift shops throughout the park, including Xcursions (Graham Beck varieties, in the Bird Gardens area), the Painted Camel Bazaar (La Joya varieties, in Pantopia), Natures Kingdom (Estancia varieties, in Morocco), and Tiger Treasures (Terrazas varieties, in Jungala)
Strolling entertainment (including hilarious characters who are certain they ‘know it all’ when it comes to beer, wine, and food!), Festival games, family-friendly activities and small-animal meet-and-greets at the Conservation Cabin round out the offerings, and special Food and Wine Festival merchandise can be found at Joe’s Landscaping Co in Bird Gardens, Artisan Festival Cabins in Gwazi Park, and Xcursions gift shop in Bird Gardens.
Headliner musical groups add a high-energy touch to Gwazi Field, where much of the Festival takes place, with acts included Kool & The Gang, Kenny Rogers, Collective Soul, KC and the Sunshine Band, Josh Turner, and Daughtry. There is plenty of seating, but as with all Busch Gardens concerts, arrive early for the best possible viewing. As big as the area is, it does fill up.
Value-for-money doesn’t generally apply to special events in the theme parks, but Busch Gardens is willing to make an exception with their Sampler packages. The Wine and Brew Sampler allows guests to choose 10 beer or wine samples for just $35, and the Food, Wine, and Brew Sampler allows a choice of any 5 samples of beer or wine and 5 samples of food for $43.
Two VIP packages are also available. The Food & Wine Festival VIP Package adds priority concert seating to the Wine and Brew Sampler for $50, and the Food & Wine Festival Ultimate VIP Package adds priority concert seating to the Food, Wine, and Brew Sampler for $60.
The Food and Wine Festival is included in park admission and with the Fun Card. Food samples range from $4 to $7, alcoholic beverages range from $7 to $8, with wine and beer flights from $11 to $15. Festival hours are noon to 9pm Saturdays and Sundays, 7 March through 26 April. Live concerts take place at 6pm, and are also free with admission.